“By engaging them, we communicate. By communicating, we dignify their existence and help them cope”.
By Max Wallack
Alzheimer's Reading Room
The quote above is one of the best I read in a long time. It is from an article in the Vancouver Sun by Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka, a professor at the Centre for Population Health Promotion Research at the University of British Columbia.
Canada is facing the reality that by 2025 one out of four senior citizens over 80 will be living with dementia.
The author says,
“Those of us who carry their memories need to make every effort to include them in our world the way they are.” In other words, we need to meet the patient at their level and not expect the patient to match our preconceived notions.Again and again, caregivers, medical personnel, and researchers are finding that creative activities like puzzles, art, and music are the path to improving the lives of those with Alzheimer’s.
The author cautions that, in addition to providing medical and physical care we need to provide “meaningful activities” and these “can be found in Creative Expression Programs that give people with dementia the opportunity for self-actualization.”
In the Vancouver Sun article, Gottlieb-Tanaka also discusses the phenomenon of Alzheimer’s patients always wanting to “go home.”
She explains that a longing for going home may be a longing for what is familiar, important, and loved by the patient. It may tell us that the patient is feeling lonely or isolated.
I was particularly interested in the following two paragraphs, since they so clearly explain what Bob DeMarco was accomplishing when he “lent his mom his brain.”
“We become the vessel that carries vanishing memories of their past life, occupation, hobbies, achievements. We can then turn around and communicate this information in the present. Specific memories such as remembering dates and details of events are irrelevant, as long as the person with dementia recalls a familiar feeling, thought or wish; they may even adopt memories of somebody else sitting next to them.”
“As long as we engage them in a conversation based even on a few words that may be accompanied by facial expressions and body gestures, we are communicating. As long as we engage them in singing, dancing, reminiscing, storytelling, painting, gardening, caring for animals, or even writing poems, we have brightened their day. As long as we accept their present abilities, we dignify, acknowledge and validate their existence.”The author tells us that according to Dr. Bruce Miller, a neurologist, some dementia patients may even develop new skills such as painting or composing music.
I was thinking that this is similar to a blind person having a heightened sense of hearing. That part of the brain that is still working becomes stronger from exercise. Not only does the Alzheimer’s patient have the portion of their brain that deals with creativity get affected last in their disease, but there is even a possibility of increasing the abilities of the remaining brain functions.
The author mentions that various programs in Canada that are working to include creative expression in the care of dementia patients.
One is the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care. They came up with a “Creative-Expression Abilities tool”, to assess the effects of creative activities on dementia patients. The B.C. Medical Services Foundation is conducting a survey on the facial expressions of dementia patients when they are engaged in creativity.
The more I read articles like this one, the more pleased I am to be distributing puzzles for Alzheimer's patients though my non-profit charitable organization Puzzles to Remember.
How wonderful that I might even be able to help develop new abilities in these patients and not just help save previous abilities.
Max Wallack is a student at Boston University and a Research Intern in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.